Tuckertown, North Carolina

Rufus “Sparks” Martinez was twenty-eight years old when Dean Hunt picked him up hitchhiking just east of Orangeburg, South Carolina. Martinez, who made a sporadic living as a migrant worker on peanut plantations, melon farms and peach orchards, was hoping to catch a ride to Leesville where he heard there was work on a fencing crew. At the time, Martinez was an illegal alien who could only work “under the table,” often at rates below minimum wage. Dean Hunt opened a door to another life for Rufus Martinez.

For over twenty years Dean Hunt had operated a successful pottery near Spartanburg. As a younger man, Hunt had traveled in Mexico and was fairly conversant in Spanish. He took an immediate liking to Martinez, and before dropping him off in Leesville, offered him a job as his assistant. Martinez knew almost nothing about pottery when he accepted the offer.

Dean Hunt’s motivation to hire Rufus Martinez was not as pure as it appeared. He had employed a series of college ceramics students, most of whom were unwilling to put up with the twelve-hour, non-stop work days. In contrast, Martinez knew the meaning of work and quickly adapted to the physical routine of his new employer.

After six months of wedging clay, scraping kiln shelves, stacking and unstacking kilns and mixing glazes, Hunt showed Martinez how to throw pottery. While his hands were toughened from years of farm labor, Martinez had a natural affinity for directing the soft, wet clay on the spinning potters wheel.

Martinez accompanied Hunt to various arts and craft fairs. At one of these events he was introduced to the face jugs of Lanier Meaders. On his return home, Mr. Martinez began to create his own version which he calls “mug jugs.” With a stylistic affinity to Aztec figures, these pots are a unique rendition of a traditional southern ceramic art form.

In 1987 Dean Hunt helped Rufus Martinez establish Mexican Tile Works and Pottery. Martinez is now a citizen of the United States and a successful small business owner. While his “mug jugs” continue to be popular, his tortilla warmers are his biggest selling item.